In a bunch of trouble with the union

TV's `Greg Brady' attracts protest and a hefty fine by appearing in a non-union touring production of `The Sound of Music.'

Catching Up With ... Barry Williams

March 25, 2001|By SARAH PEKKANEN | SARAH PEKKANEN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's shocking but true: Greg Brady is in trouble.

This latest controversy doesn't even compare to what happened when he lit up his first on-air cigarette - or when he tried calling his bemused parents "Carol" and "Mike." No, the maelstrom now swirling around Greg rivals the angst that gripped the country when the oldest Brady boy - aka actor Barry Williams - revealed in a tell-all book that he'd made out with on-screen sister Marcia.

This time, the brouhaha is following him to Baltimore. Williams is set to perform at The Lyric Opera House beginning Tuesday as Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music," and a more wholesome pairing would be difficult to imagine. Except that the head of Actors Equity union, upset that Williams is performing in a non-Equity show, has sent the actor a letter castigating him as "immoral" and "heinous."

The union, which sets salaries and benefits for stage performers, has also slapped Williams with a $50,000 fine, believed to be the largest ever levied against a performer.

The union's action has left Williams as mad as Marcia was when he lobbed that football at her nose just before her big date.

"Their bitterness is unwarranted and spiteful," he says in a very un-Brady voice of thinly concealed anger. "In order for them to pursue their perceived cause, they have had to manufacture statements, spread rumors, lie and disseminate misinformation at my expense. I've asked them, `Why am I being treated so differently, why are the scores of other actors that do what I'm doing not suffering the wrath or penalty that I am?' And I've been told they wanted to make an example out of someone and I am it."

"Are we making an example out of him?" says Equity spokesman David Lotz. "Yes - because he should know better. Most of the people we discipline ... are young actors just starting out. This is very different."

Williams, who is being paid a reported $15,000 a week plus a percentage of the show's profits, has been on tour with "Sound of Music" since last fall. There's been at least one silver lining to the controversy that has followed him from city to city as he tours in the show (in Pittsburgh, local actors sang mocking parodies of the show outside the theater; Equity protesters will be outside the Lyric opening night here). A little publicity - positive or negative - is never all bad.

"In terms of publicity, I think that anything that takes your attention to a project ultimately is pretty good for it," Williams concedes.

He also contends that most people have no trouble making the transition from viewing him as Greg Brady to Captain von Trapp: "My experience is it takes approximately 20 seconds to make the adjustment from who they are expecting and who I am onstage."

Still, Williams hasn't exactly proven eager to shed his association with the sitcom that ran for five years in the early '70s. While most of his former co-stars have faded into obscurity (Mike "Bobby' Lookinland became a cameraman; Christopher "Peter" Knight ended up in the computer business), Williams has capitalized on his Brady connections.

First came his 1992 best-selling book: "Growing Up Brady ... I Was a Teenage Greg," in which he dropped the bomb about kissing sister Marcia (Maureen McCormick). Then he served as an executive producer of the TV reunion "Growing Up Brady: The Movie." And in 1999, he released a music CD called "The Return of Johnny Bravo."

Johnny Bravo was, as devoted "Brady Bunch" fans will recall, the stage name chosen for Greg by a record executive who wanted to turn him into a pop star. But when Greg learned he was hired primarily because he fit a spangled suit and that his voice would be dubbed, he held true to his lofty artistic aspirations and tore up his contract.

Continuing to embrace the corniness that defined the show, Williams even spoofed himself at December's Billboard Music Awards when he trotted down the aisle chanting, in the mode of rapper Eminem: "I'm Greg Brady, yes I'm the real Greg Brady, all you other Greg Brady's are not syndicated."

If it seems surprising that anyone still cares about the characters of a relatively short-lived sitcom, consider this: There have been seven "Brady Bunch" TV movies and films, and the show has been in continual re-runs for 30 years. More people can identify Barry Williams as Greg Brady than can name who is on a $10 bill (it's Alexander Hamilton) or the current vice president. Maybe this explains why, despite the fact that the one-time heartthrob Greg is now in his forties, his fans are still zealous. Some even try to find his hotel room, so he travels under an assumed name.

"I'm proud to be associated with something that has impacted so many people for so many years and become multigenerational," Williams says. "Each of the 117 episodes that we made has aired over 100,000 times."

And, who knows, maybe Williams is onto something: Other wholesome stars seem to be redefining their images lately, too. "Laverne and Shirley" stars Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka have angered Equity by appearing in another non-union show, "Grease." And - brace yourselves - Mrs. Wholesome herself, Mom Brady Florence Henderson, proudly declared on the "Later Today" show that she had sex more frequently than her two younger co-hosts.

In addition to his run at The Lyric, Williams will be signing copies of the newly released edition of his book on Friday, March 30, from 4 to 5 p.m. at For Your Entertainment at Arundel Mills. Haven't had enough of Greg yet? Check out his Web site: www.barrywilliams.com.

What: "The Sound of Music"

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 Mt. Royal Ave

When: Tuesday, Mar. 27 through Sunday, April 1; show times 8 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. Sunday; matinees at 2 p.m. Sat. and Sun.

Tickets: $26-$56

Call: 410-481-SEAT.

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